Over Hill and Under Hill

Or: So, just what the hell have you been doing for the last six months, two entire frickin’ seasons, anyway?

Good question. The short form is, “Knitting, physiologically speaking, for a couple of weeks, then going back to work, then adding some ionizing radiation and chemical warfare to the mix just to keep things interesting.”

The slightly longer form goes like this. In the wee hours of the morning on Thursday, June 5th, Stanford contacted me to come in for surgery. This was basically as per plan — we hadn’t known exactly what time I’d be scheduled for.

The process was smooth and efficient: I signed in, went through a little paperwork, changed into the patient’s gown I was handed, and was then prepared for surgery, with a needle here and a needle there. Once everything was in place, my parents were allowed in and we said our pre-surgical goodbyes. I would think that I was still conscious when I left for the surgical chamber proper, but I have no memory of the trip.

The next thing I was aware of was waking in the Intensive Care Unit, sometime late that afternoon. Given that the conversation I’d had with the anesthesiologist and neurosurgeon the day before, I had expected to find myself conversing with the surgical staff while my brain’s left temporal lobe and its surroundings were mapped. My first conscious thought was something along the lines of, “Oh, crap — I slept like an idiot right through the whole thing, and they had to fly, or rather cut, blind. I’ll be lucky if I can still form complete sentences when speaking out loud.”

But no. When the anesthesiologist and neuroscientist stopped by to check up on me, along with my parents, I learned that I’d been a conscious and, difficult though it is to believe, even civil patient. I just happened not to remember any of it. (I suspect that’s why I don’t remember wheeling into the surgery room, either — I’m guessing that I was technically conscious at the time, but that the tapes on which the mental log of the experience was recorded were wiped along with those of the surgery itself.)

Somewhere in all of that, as I tried to assess myself, I had a slightly childish but nonetheless comforting thought: “Whatever else has happened, I have enough mind left that I’ll be able to enjoy WALL•E.” I’d been looking forward to the movie for a while, and fretted that its release would take place three weeks after my surgery. Moreover, I’d made a promise to a friend’s daughter to take her to see it, and I wanted to keep my word.

Physically considering that I’d just had part of my brain removed, and forty small, rigid, steel staples were now embedded in my flesh to help hold the incision shut, I didn’t feel all that bad. True, it was a bit of a struggle to recall, when asked by the staff, just where the hell I was — “Palo… Alto…” — but hey, any job a $300 GPS unit can perform is not one I need to lose sleep over.

My parents, having established that I was conscious and reasonably coherent — I think we briefly exchanged words in German and Spanish, just to verify that I still spoke those — left the hospital to sleep in actual beds. (I was glad of this, having encouraged them to do so prior to my surgery, assuming all went well. I didn’t see the point of their sleeping uncomfortably on-site just to show “solidarity”.)

I also slept, albeit in regularly-interrupted stints — the rules required the nurse on duty to check on me every hour, and “checking on” meant verifying that I could still maintain some semblance of a conversation. Since that seemed preferable to letting me quietly slip into a coma or something similar, I did my best to reply civilly.

My parents returned around 10:00 a.m. the next day, Friday, along with the surgical staff. When the neurosurgeon, Dr. Harsh, indicated that he thought it would be safe to release me that day, my mother initially thought he was joking. It’s hard to blame her, since we’d originally been led to expect that I would spend four or five nights in the hospital. (Mom later expressed her suspicion that my father’s MD probably hadn’t hurt matters, which seems credible enough. Whatever the reason, it was gratifying to hear a member of the ICU staff remark that she’d never seen a patient discharged directly from her department in something like 20 years of service.)

We drove home, and I wrote and posted the previous entry before going to sleep. Of course, sleeping under the circumstances required a bit of arrangement: doing so on my side was out of the question for a little while. Basically, I had to sleep lying… back, rather than down entirely, on a small mound of pillows. Arms at sides, facing the ceiling at something like a fifteen-degree angle. It felt odd at first, but was surprisingly easy to get used to.

Thus ended a long day.

7 thoughts on “Over Hill and Under Hill

  1. Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do. I’m half crazy all for the love of you. It won’t be a stylish marriage, I can’t afford a carriage. But you’ll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two.

    Take care.

  2. David? David, is that you? You’re going to put me on the bike seat housing the giant gear-driven dildo, aren’t you?

  3. Thanks for writing this up. I hope everything else has been going as well.

    There is a drug that has essentially the effect you outline, where you’re conscious, but not forming memories. I had such a drug when I had my wisdom teeth out. So it may not have been the scalpel. Or, my wisdom teeth extraction may have been more complicated than I was lead to believe.

  4. Three times in the theater. Another two times on Blu-ray. Plus my mom and I got to watch the world premiere of BURN•E on Pixar’s campus at a special event. So, uh, yeah, I liked WALL•E just a bit.

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